Cholesterol is a waxy substance and our bodies use it to make cell membranes, hormones and vitamin D. The cholesterol in our blood comes from two sources: the food we eat and our liver. Our liver, practically, makes all the cholesterol our body needs. Examples of high cholesterol foods are: high fat milk products, cakes, butter, red meat, lobster, fried chicken, fast food burgers and fries. Some people inherit a gene that causes them to make too much cholesterol.
Cholesterol and other fats are transported in our blood stream in the form of spherical particles called lipoproteins. The two most commonly known lipoproteins are low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL).
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or "bad" cholesterol, is a type of fat in the blood that contains the most cholesterol. It can contribute to the formation of plaque buildup in the arteries, known as atherosclerosis. You want your LDL to be low.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, helps to remove cholesterol from the blood, preventing the fatty buildup and formation of plaque. You want your HDL to be as high as possible.
Why control cholesterol?
When you control your cholesterol, you are giving your arteries their best chance to remain clear of atherosclerotic blockages, but when you have too much bad cholesterol (LDL), then you are at increased risk of coronary artery disease and heart attack, peripheral arterial disease, carotid artery disease and stroke.
In general, desirable levels are as follows:
• Total cholesterol level less than 200 mg/dl
• LDL cholesterol less than 130 mg/dl
• HDL cholesterol greater than 40 mg/dl
In some individuals who already have known advanced cardiac or vascular disease and/or who have an increased number of risk factors, a physician may determine that the LDL cholesterol level should be kept lower than 70 mg/dl.
If your total cholesterol is 200 mg/dL or higher, you need to take action promptly to protect you vascular health.
What can I do to control cholesterol?
Good news! You can lower your cholesterol and reduce your cardiovascular risk. Your liver and your body's cells make about 75% of the cholesterol in your blood. The other 25% comes from your food.
• You can change what you eat. Eat healthy foods that are low in cholesterol, trans fats and saturated fats and high in fiber and unsaturated fats: vegetables, fruits, beans, white meat and almonds.
• Schedule a cholesterol screening and stay current on your health check-ups.
• Get active. When you exercise, you increase your body's ability to make good cholesterol.
• Maintain a healthy weight.
• Quit smoking as it may interact with cholesterol levels
If your doctor prescribes cholesterol medication (e.g. statins) for you, it is important that you take it and follow the other healthy lifestyle recommendations, too.